Craft brewery exceptionalism . . . and reality

In “Craft: An Argument,” Pete Brown writes, “(Craft) isn’t just about the things we make; it’s about the kind of people we are. And for this, we get to an unspoken assumption we may be reluctant to admit even to ourselves; we believe that makers and buyers of craft products are morally superior to other people.”

When will people quit believing that?

The Kansas City Star dug deep into what has been going on for years at Boulevard Brewing for years but remained mostly secret outside the brewery doors until last week. The headline — Boulevard leaders knew of sexual harassment but didn’t stop it. ‘They were all aware’ — only hints at how bad things were.

To cut to the chase, “Sixteen former and current Boulevard employees interviewed by The Star said an intense and insular culture helped to breed a toxic workplace that is especially unsafe for women — ranging from a ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere to gender discrimination to sexual harassment and assault.”

Notice the difference as this story unfolded between when women were speaking and when men did. Patt Mullin, digital marketing director, Tuesday tweeted: “Behind almost every company crisis or controversy are a lot of innocent people within who are hurting, frustrated, trying their best to do right and just LIVE. Remember those people.”

Jeff Krum, the company president who resigned by the end of the week, told employees on Monday, “my gut response to this is, frankly, is anger.”

“So fundamentally it’s, I guess, a mark of the times we live in that people can say virtually anything and that the person or the business about whom they say it is deemed to be guilty until proven innocent,” Krum said.

His tone had not changed when he told the Star after his departure, “The rules have changed. There is now just one side to every story. Those who resist or who do not conform are scorned, and personally destroyed for good measure.”

Krum would not have consumers think the worst of their local brewery, and that’s not to say you should. But what has apparently been going on at Boulevard for so long without being reported suggests the need to ask more questions. Questions from local newspapers, from loyal fans, from others breweries.

“If you ever want to work in the beer industry,” said Keke Gibb, who wrote a Reddit post that set off the accusations against Boulevard, “you can’t talk about abuses in the beer industry.”

I can’t change that mine is a male voice, so will point you elsewhere for takeaways:

– A headline at Good Beer Hunting speaks the truth: Get Out of Your Own Way — Employees Won’t Speak Up Until the Brewing Industry Tears Down Its Walls. Kate Bernot offers examples of what women have been expected to tolerate as well as but also the trauma that may be involved when they choose to come forward. “These challenges aren’t unique to those experiencing abuse within the brewing sphere; they span industries. And like other industries, beer has committed itself to doing better. Applauding whistleblowers for coming forward is a start. Reducing the barriers they have to doing so is a next step.”

– Writing at VinePair, Beth Demmon concludes, “A better solution? Believe women. Putting women in leadership roles where they can identify areas of improvement — before they become areas of reproach — is a crucial step that many breweries have yet to take. And, breweries: If you’re going to hop on a progressive initiative like Women’s Brew Day, or Black is Beautiful, or any of the opportunities to support marginalized members of the beer community, back up those splashy PR moves with action. Earn the clout through work, in the brewhouse and out. Don’t assume you have it, regardless of how good your beers are.”